Quest for a Complete Psychology: Abraham Maslow’s 10 Unfinished Projects – by Edward Hoffman, Ph.D. |

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March 18 by The Running Son

Abraham Maslow’s Unfinished Projects

Maslow’s Quest for a Complete Psychology

by Edward Hoffman, Ph.D.

Published on September 5, 2011 in “The Peak Experience”

At the time of Maslow’ sudden death from heart disease in 1970, he was busily at work on many intellectual projects spanning his interests in community-building, counseling, education, management, organizational development, personality growth, political development, “utopian” social psychology, and even theology. Based on Maslow’s often hand-written notes and fragmentary drafts of envisioned articles that I discovered as his biographer,  these are 10 specific areas that he viewed as important for our time:

1) The role of peak-experiences in affecting adult life. Maslow was interested in how different types of peak–experiences help people to change and grow, overcome emotional blockages, and achieve a stronger sense of identity and fulfillment. He was also interested in the peak-experiences of children and adolescents–a realm almost completely unexplored at the time.

2) The role of gratitude in self-actualization. Maslow believed that the emotionally healthy person is able to feel gratitude easily and to express it easily. Thus, an inability to feel and express gratitude easily is a sign of inner disturbance.  He was intrigued by how gratitude may be a key, hidden factor in affecting our emotional well-being on a day-to-day basis. This is one insight that has become an important part of positive psychology today.

3) Criminals who undergo genuine moral conversions while in prison. What accounts for such relatively rare but dramatic inner changes? More than a century ago, the founding American psychologist William James was fascinated with “conversion” experiences of this type–and believed it held important clues for human potential. He addressed this topic specifically in his VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE, which Maslow found inspiring. What lessons do such persons have to teach us about the possibility of initiating tremendous change in our lives?

4) The nature of plateau-experiences in self-actualizing people. Toward the end of Maslow’s life, he argued that brief and intense peak-experiences are not really the indicator of exceptional mental health, but rather, plateaus: extended periods of serenity and inner well-being. Maslow also suggested that people in midlife and old age could learn to cultivate plateau-experiences. In the world’s aging societies, how might this important goal be facilitated? What techniques are already available, or could be developed?

5) Maslow speculated that as we physically age, our facial attractiveness often reflects our inner well-being. That is, during midlife and especially old age, self-actualizing men and women are more radiant–and more energizing to be around– than those whose faces reveal bitterness and disappointment. Is this theory plausible? If so, how can we better understand this intriguing mind-body relationship?

6) Cross-cultural differences in self-actualization. During Maslow’s last years, he suggested that individual paths toward self-actualization vary according to one’s culture. In the USA, he consistently found that self-actualizers are typically active, high-achieving individuals who are socially involved. But Maslow was willing to concede that in cultures that emphasize contemplation and inwardness as their ideals of the sage, self-actualization might develop differently. How does self-actualization occur in differing cultures around the world?

7) The nature of nadir experiences in personal growth. These are experiences of emotional pain, loss, defeat, and other seemingly undesirable states of being–perhaps similar to what the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung called “encountering the shadow.” Maslow found anecdotally that some people grow tremendously from their negative, unhappy experiences in life. Many, of course, do not. What is involved here? How can we better understand personality growth from this perspective? Many European psychologists seem especially interested in this issue today.

8) The phenomenology of being intensely, romantically in love. Maslow felt that psychology had very little knowledge on this topic, especially on possible gender differences: that is, how men and women may differ in their experience of being (“falling”) in love. In what ways, do people feel differently when in this exhilarating state? Do they feel more hopeful, optimistic, and appreciative of life? Do they actually perceive the world differently? If so, what does this state say about human potentialities?

9) The nature of human evil. Maslow was grappling with this question at the time of his death, and came to no final conclusions. He asked: Is most of the suffering in the world caused by a few genuinely evil (malicious, vengeful, hateful, power-hungry) people? Or rather is it a quality basic to human nature? He was especially interested in when evil manifests itself in human behavior: at how early an age?

10) Why do communes and large group-living arrangements almost inevitably fail in Western civilization? Does Western culture with its values make it difficult–or nearly impossible–for people to live together harmoniously in large groups, or is the problem something more intrinsic in human nature? How can we build harmonious group living arrangements beyond the isolated nuclear family?

These were among the dozens of psychological questions that Maslow hoped to answer, or effectively raise, in his final years.

copyright by Edward Hoffman, Ph.D.

The Running Father Blog

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RunningSon aka Jim Aldrich, Joshua Tree CA 2013 | This site is dedicated with the deepest gratitude to Dr. Cláudio Naranjo, whose writings gave me life.

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